Category Archives: Companion Animals

Ebola: Can dogs transmit the virus?

iStock_000011963680LargeRecently, there’s been a lot in the news about Ebola and dogs- particularly, about a dog in Spain named Excalibur, who was euthanized on Wednesday, October 8th. Excalibur was the family pet of a nurse’s assistant who is currently being treated after contracting the virus. The question: can dogs carry and transmit the virus?

Wild animals are certainly capable of carrying and transmitting the virus. The World Health Organization recognizes that Ebola is transmitted to people from wild animals, and fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Infection has been documented in wild bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope, and porcupines. However, there are no conclusive studies showing that dogs can transmit Ebola to humans. But there also aren’t any conclusive studies showing that dogs don’t pose a risk, either.

During the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon, dogs were exposed to Ebola from eating dead animals that had been infected with the disease. Researchers took blood samples from over 400 dogs, and results suggested that dogs could be infected by Ebola and potentially remain asymptomatic. It’s possible that viral particles could be excreted in urine, feces, and saliva (as has been seen in other animals), potentially putting humans at risk of contracting the virus. But again, no concrete answers. This study shows that the dogs were exposed to the virus and their immune systems responded to it, but it still doesn’t tell us whether or not dogs that have encountered Ebola can shed the virus or not. 

Without conducting specific research into canine infection, at this point, the short answer is that researchers really aren’t sure whether or not dogs can transmit the virus to humans. The decision to euthanize Excalibur has evoked strong emotions and responses, and rightly so. Many are outraged at Excalibur’s death. Some argue that he should have been quarantined and tested to determine whether or not he was a risk to the human population; others are taking the “better safe than sorry” approach. What do YOU think? Should Excalibur have been euthanized? How should companion animals be handled if their owners contract the virus? We’d love to hear your thoughts- please post below.

Cat saved by a dog- and you’ll never guess how!

dog and cat lying togetherIt’s a happy ending for Buttercup the cat, but the story didn’t start out that way. When Buttercup’s owner brought him to the vet clinic, he was pretty sick. He was lethargic and his red blood cell count was abnormally low. What he needed was a blood transfusion- but veterinarians didn’t think he had much time left. As donated cat blood wasn’t readily available, vets turned to the next best thing: dog blood.

That’s right- Buttercup the cat received a blood transfusion with donated dog blood! Cats and dogs have blood types, like humans do, but just as there is a universal blood type in humans (if you’re curious, it’s O negative), there’s also a universal blood type in dogs. Buttercup received a blood transfusion from the equivalent of an “O negative” blood donor, and the blood transfusion bought Buttercup enough time to allow his own bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.

Cross-species blood transfusions, also called xenotransfusions, aren’t very common in veterinary medicine. However, in Buttercup’s case, he was lucky that this was a viable option! Thanks to advances in biomedical research and an anonymous greyhound blood donor, Buttercup has a shot at ALL nine lives. 

Read more about Buttercup’s story here.

Dogs are providing clues to human breast cancer

pixabay cocker spanielDogs are often called man’s best friend. In this case, dogs are helping humans more than you might think! Dogs can be a great model for understanding cancer, because they develop cancer spontaneously, and in this case, cocker spaniels may be able to help researchers better understand human breast cancer.

Recently, the epigenome of the cocker spaniel has been characterized. Researchers compared dog and human epigenetic changes, and found that when looking at breast cancer, the same regions of DNA are affected in dogs and humans.

So, why is this important? Discovering common mechanisms can help both humans and dogs in future research studies. It’s possible that targeting these epigenetic changes could help slow disease progression, and dogs may be able to help us understand this faster. And ultimately, understanding more about the connection between canine and human cancer will benefit both species.

Read more about this research here: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/ibri-deg100214.php

Biomedical research: allowing you and your pets to appreciate life to the fullest

Silhouette of Happy Family and Dog“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.” You’ve undoubtedly heard a variation of this saying, and often, it’s all too true when it comes to your health or the health of your loved ones. How often do you take your health for granted? The number of medical advances we can take advantage of today are staggering- vaccines, organ transplants, blood transfusions, insulin, pain medication, allergy medication, antibiotics, skin grafts, prosthetics, pacemakers- the list goes on and on.

Researchers are working hard, often behind the scenes, to try to give you and your loved ones every possible chance to fight disease or injury. Often, biomedical research involves working with animal models to understand diseases and develop new drugs and treatments. But it’s not just for you- biomedical research is helping your pets, too!

The FDA recently approved three new drugs to treat cancer in dogs. Previously, canine cancer was treated with drugs that were approved for use in humans. But researchers have developed specialized drugs to treat mast cell tumors, mammary carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma in man’s best friend.

“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Thanks to biomedical research, we can enjoy our health and the health of our pets for much, much longer.

Read more about new canine cancer treatments here: http://consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/mis-cancer-news-102/cancer-drugs-approved-just-for-dogs-691349.html

Read more about the benefits of biomedical research here: http://fbresearch.org/education/benefits-of-biomedical-research/

Cancer that glows in the dark

pixabay green lightsGlow in the dark tumors: it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but actually, the use of a dye that glows under infrared light could drastically improve surgical outcomes for cancer patients and reduce the chance of recurrence.

Often, surgical removal is difficult because doctors can’t always be certain of the location of tumor margins. So researchers tested a dye that is already approved by the FDA and glows green under infrared light.This dye concentrates in cancerous tissues, so when the surgeon shines an infrared light on the surgical area, the tumor cells will glow.

Working with mice, they found that this dye helped them ‘highlight’ tumors before they were visible to the naked eye. Veterinarians then used the dye on several pet dogs with lung cancer before surgery, and found that it improved visibility of the tumors.

After proving the effectiveness of this dye in mice and dogs, human clinical trials were approved, and the dye actually helped doctors visualize human tumors as well as diagnose patients more accurately. This is a great example of research progressing from bench to bedside. Read more about it here:

http://www.alnmag.com/news/2014/07/cancer-glow-improves-surgical-outcomes?et_cid=4073942&et_rid=655142386&location=top

Sheepdogs and robots- there’s a connection!

google free sheepdogsWhat do sheepdogs and robots have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but actually, there’s a real connection! By studying sheepdogs and understanding the way they manipulate herds of sheep, researchers are learning how to create models that will mimic these strategies and improve the efficiency of robots.

Researchers fitted sheep and sheepdogs with GPS devices on harnesses to attempt to develop a mathematical model for herding. They found that sheepdogs use two main rules when working: 1) collect the sheep when they’re scattered and 2) move them forward when they’re all together. It’s surprisingly simple- and it’s more efficient than many current models that have been attempted! The dogs are constantly reviewing the situation in front of them to determine if the sheep are gathered together enough to drive forward, and if not, they herd them closer together. Using these two rules, a dog can herd over 100 individual animals, but current robot models can only handle groups of about 40. The understanding gained from these dogs may change that!

Learning from sheepdogs can likely make a big difference in the development of computer models and robots created for herding, cleaning the environment, and crowd control. As usual, I’m amazed at the knowledge that we’re able to gain by studying man’s best friend!

Read more about this research here and here.

Spaying and neutering: are there long-term health effects?

iStock_000001760646SmallIt’s a well-known mantra: “Spay or neuter your pets.” The intention is usually to reduce the unwanted pet population by preventing pets from reproducing, but new research shows that spaying or neutering could contribute to other health problems.

Researchers investigated the incidences of several joint disorders (hip and elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tear) and cancers (lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors, and mammary cancer). They found an increase in the incidence of two joint disorders and three cancers in neutered or spayed dogs, and interestingly, they found that the dog’s breed makes a difference.

In both Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, the incidence of joint disorders in intact dogs is about 5%. From analyzing data from veterinary hospital records, researchers found that neutering Labradors at under six months of age doubled the incidence of joint disorders, and neutering Goldens at under six months of age increased the chance of a joint disorder to 4-5 times that of an intact dog. They also found that spaying female Goldens increased the incidence of other cancers by 3-4 times!

This is important information, because Labradors and Goldens are both very popular breeds, and understanding the associated risks of spaying or neutering should be important to pet owners. It’s also possible that research like this could prompt new recommendations for spaying and neutering, while taking the dog’s age and breed into account.

Responsible pet ownership is a hot topic, and spaying and neutering has been an invaluable part of reducing the numbers of unwanted pets that end up in shelters. What do you think? Have you spayed or neutered your pets? Why or why not?

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0102241

Bone cancer vaccine gives hope to dogs AND humans

iStock_000016358177XSmallA trial at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine is introducing a groundbreaking treatment for dogs suffering from osteosarcoma. Dogs in the trial are receiving an experimental vaccine that trains the immune system to recognize tumor cells and to kill them- and it’s working!

More than 10,000 dogs are diagnosed each year with osteosarcoma, which is an aggressive type of bone cancer. Most dogs die within a year of diagnosis, but in this trial, many of the dogs in the study have survived for more than two years. Check out this video to see an update on Denali, a therapy dog enrolled in the trial.

The biology of canine osteosarcoma is the same as the biology of these tumors in children, so the information gained from this study could one day help children with osteosarcoma. There are also types of breast cancer that have similarities to osteosarcoma, so the human benefits aren’t limited to one type of cancer.

Researchers are looking for more dogs with osteosarcoma to participate in this trial. Does your dog qualify? If so, check out the link here for more information.

Canine melanoma vaccine coming soon!

jackrussellpixabayThe first therapeutic vaccine for cancer has been conditionally licensed by the USDA! And man’s best friend will benefit from it. This vaccine is intended as a treatment for dogs with stage II or stage III oral melanoma, and hopefully, it will dramatically improve the quality of life for pets suffering from this type of cancer.

Canine oral melanoma is very aggressive and can be difficult to treat. Melanoma tumors contain a protein called tyrosinase, and the vaccine works by introducing human tyrosinase into the dog’s body, which stimulates an immune response against the protein.

Because canine oral melanoma affects a small percentage of the dog population, using a vaccine as a treatment instead of a preventative seems to be the best option at this point. But if veterinarians were able to determine certain breeds or populations of dogs that were at risk, it’s possible that this treatment could be modified for use as a preventative vaccine.

By starting with a vaccine treatment for oral melanoma, it’s possible that this could lead to the development of vaccine treatments for other types of cancer. Interestingly, this development first began with basic animal research, moved into research in human treatments, and now it’s back to animals by benefiting man’s best friend! Who knows- this may lead to the development of human melanoma treatments. Read more about it here:

http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/vet-dept/canine-practice/canine-melanoma-vaccine-gets-conditional-ok.aspx

Mosquito bites could become ancient history

tiger-mosquito-49141_640Now that summer’s here, have you noticed that the mosquitoes are out in full force? Did you know that mosquitoes cause more human suffering and disease than any other organism on the planet? Over 750,000 people a year die from mosquito-borne illnesses, and it’s not just humans that are affected! Mosquitoes spread dog heartworms, Eastern equine encephalitis, and many other diseases that affect our pets and local wildlife. But there might soon be a solution!

Researchers have figured out a way to genetically engineer mosquitoes that could dramatically reduce or eliminate some mosquito-borne illnesses. In these mosquitoes, when sperm is produced, the X chromosome that the male would normally pass on to its female young is destroyed, so 95% of the time they only have male offspring. Why does this matter? Well, male mosquitoes don’t bite- the females do. Females spread disease, and one female can lay up to 3,000 eggs over the course of her lifetime.

Hopefully, this type of pest control could eliminate many mosquito-borne illnesses. But could this type of gender control work in other species? Could this research have applications in the understanding and management of X-linked diseases? What do you think?

Read more about it here:

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/boys-only-experiment-could-end-biting-mosquitoes-n126806